but in fact it is a time of 'taking up' - taking up the time to reflect and taking up our own crosses and denying ourselves (Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23,Mark 8:34) - so the many who think of the giving up of chocolate during Lent - might be denying themselves, but they are selling Lent short!
Today is also an 'Ember Day' - A day when we pray for those who are preparing for ordination (and this is a long path and so during these times (four periods of three days) we pray for those testing calling, training and preparing for ordination (well, I do!).
So what are the readings telling us today? The Old Testament find God and Abram drawing up a legal contract as part of Abram's call - for soon he will no longer be 'Abram' (noble or exalted father) by 'Abraham' (father of a multitude or nation).
To show Abram He was serious about this, God entered into a legal contract - for passing between the two lines of halved animal is saying, 'If I break this covenant, may it be the same for me as these animals!' This is 'The Covenant' - - circumcision is the sign of the Covenant, not the constructing and enacting of it. Here we have the promise of the 'Promised Land' making it's appearance too - for there is always great promise when we enter into relationship with God.
Paul, as ever brings us something to mull over too. Paul speaks of those who oppose Jesus, the Christ, from the position of having been one of those who did the same thing. Those who live for themselves, those 'whose god is their belly'. Everyone has to choose who they are going to serve: Words from Bob Dylan's song 'Gotta serve somebody''
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
Doesn't leave much wiggle room there, does he?
And on to the Gospel - Luke 13 talks about life, death - repentance and judgement. In verse five we find. "But unless you turn away from your sins, you will all die too.” - Jesus talk about the religious people, those who look like they are true believers and points out that the inner person lives the truth about themselves and that sometimes the way we behave in public denies the secrets of our own hearts. Who do we do things for? God or us?
Jesus, when warned, tells those who came that He would de what He came to do and to honour God - and more besides, He was going to go into Jerusalem, that place where so many of the prophets had perished and there, in the lion's den, where the cries of Hosanna would ring, then would the final act begin. This is a statement of intent and a pointer to Palm Sunday - Jesus knew He would not be killed where He was (for I assume He was in Bethany, the Home of Mary, Marthas and Lazarus) because Jerusalem was the place it was all going to kick off - end - and three days later - Begin.
What covenants have we made? What plans does God have for us? Are we willing to take them upon ourselves? Who are you going to choose to serve?
Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings, and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,"
Philippians 3.17 - 4.1
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’